A Conversation with Ben Kinde

Ben Kinde is a Portland-based artist and designer. I found Ben’s work on Instagram’s explore page and decided to reach out to him directly for an interview to learn more about his work as a creator.

What place do you call home?
Already with a complicated opening question. Nowhere and everywhere (just to blow it way out of proportion). I spent a lot of my life disengaging from my surrounding environment, blaming my distaste for it on external matters like relationships and jobs. Unable to confront that these reoccurring patterns had one element in common; me. Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of internal work, becoming aware that if I can learn to relate to these common cycles, not detach and run away then I can truly live anywhere free of self-established hardships. It’s a work progress to call anywhere I am ‘home’…

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What brought you to the states?
Family. We collective were blessed with permanent residency, which once you get, requires you to move to the States. People have this image of America as the land of the free like it’s a physical thing to obtain, but a big part of the reason I stayed is that there is an emotional freedom that exists here that I never had access in the UK. That’s a whole other topic in itself though.

How did you learn what you’re doing now?
I’ve been doing ‘art’ in many forms for most of my life. But I think if we are discussing specifically my present mesh of artistic practice I’d say the majority of the wave has only been this year.

I quit my job in December and took it upon myself to carve a career, learning to code websites, then pulling naturally into a deeper graphic design practice I’ve toyed with since I was a teenager. It was my partner who inspired me last year to pick up a paintbrush, stepping from an art nouveau illustration practice.

But if I’m honest, none of this would have been possible if not for a mentor who worked with great effort to uncover the biggest detractor for all creativity; the self-critic. He initiated me onto a path of healing further enabiling my ability to creatively learning my own history, body and mind.

What is your design style?
I’m very heavily influenced by the De Stijl movement of the 1920’s as well as Japanese design concepts and appreciation for negative space and playful design. Occasionally I still touch on Art Nouveau and I’m forever learning how to balance these components within all of my work.

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What does a typical day look like for you?
That’s a tough question because right now I’m writing this under a desk to evade the sun. I just moved into a semi-private art studio, so recently it’s been: Wake around 7 am and cuddle with my otherwise aggressive and surly kitten. Share a delicious breakfast with my partner and have a cold bath (in all seasons, do the research). Bike, bus or walk across the river for coffee. This is usually time to see a friend or have a meeting with someone new. Continue my journey to the studio where I begin by drawing something. Anything really just to get my mind in the right space. Then if I haven’t put together a to-do list already it’s important that I have one. Work until 6 or 7 pm or wait until my partner complains about wanting dinner. Settle back at home with great food, discuss creative ventures, read a little, maybe some incredible Eastern cinema (I’ll make anyone a list, email me) and bed.

How do you describe your work to people?
I’m practicing more and more to refer to myself simply as ‘artist’ or ‘designer’. There’s a great quote from Allen Hurlburt who wrote;

“Layout is not a popular or fashionable description of the design process. Most contemporary graphic designers prefer to be known as art directors, design directors, or visual communicators rather than layout men. Even though these titles may be more appropriate descriptions of our expanding responsibilities, there is no better word than layout to define the unique synthesis of ideas and form that make up the printed page.”

He wrote this in 1977!!! And yet how bloody relevant it remains. I think describing ourselves with these larger than life titles reflects an insecurity about being judged that to me, doesn’t provide a lot of confidence to the work itself. I still often stumble on my own fears ‘ but if they think artist means THIS?!’ and start uncomfortably listing all the things I do but it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s all just art. Art is one big thing.

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Who inspires you the most?
Angela Vallejo, Kenya Hara, Rich Stapleton, Louis Reith, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Josef Mueller-Brockmann, Lee Baker, Josef Albers, Laraaji, Chibei Hatakeyama, Kate Shela, Isaac Meadows, Nate Giraldo.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
The Dharmic practice has provided a lot of space and clarity in my life and continues to inspire my creativity. The humbling history of typography and type designers in general, I have a lot of respect for an art form whose headline reads ‘if it’s good it won’t be noticed.’ I feel the same way for De Stijl. Not many understand without that movement there might not have been the Bauhaus school and subsequently graphic design. Different genres of music have always inspired different approaches to art. I grew up on predominantly death metal, grime and ambient and each encourages a specific mood.

What are your favorite materials to use?
Staedtler pigment liner pens have seemed to survive extensive stippling work. My cheap one dollar brushes remind me you can create with anything, and the gimmicks we buy into are a sure way to bankruptcy. Sumi ink is my go-to for really all things from tattoos to painting. Traditionally it has been used in tattooing and calligraphy, but it is a versatile substance and I haven’t found anything more suitable for my work. I’m a massive paper nerd but most American cities are so overrun with Blick stores settling market prices, I rarely find something truly interesting to work with. I loved using Arturo paper until the shop I bought from decided to triple their price per sheet, and bulk would save me only five percent.

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What’s your next project?
Professionally there’s a lot I could learn from within a company that welcomes my style of design, so I’m on a hunt. In the meantime, I’m creating some new prints from an upcomig show, finishing a couple of web design projects, formalizing my tattoo practice, hoping to push for collaborations for the first time in my life and have a couple of branding projects in the works.

The overarching theme for the horizon is establishing architecture around myself so that when I introduce myself to potential clients, the grey areas of my creative processes, my expectations, how I can meet their needs, how I can communicate will be established clearly and fully understood.

To anyone who has been patient enough to read through all of my ramblings, and maybe even connected to an idea I have put forth, I empower you to reach out and share a conversation with me or with anyone that inspires you to push and grow. Share your works of art, no matter the form. Everything is art when observed creatively, and I’m serious when I say that.

You can follow Ben Kinde’s work on his website, visit his print shop, or just say hi at info@benkinde.com

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